Ask Urban Scout #10

Dear Scout,
I can’t help but get the feeling that you are advocating for all 6 billion people to go back to living as hunter-gatherers. Wouldn’t that quickly deplete all of the wild food out there? Wouldn’t all 6 billion of us quickly eat up the wild? How many salmon are left? If all of us started eating salmon exclusively, they would go extinct that much faster. What do you think about this?

I get this question quite often and my answer is yes, I think that all 6 billion of us should immediately stop farming and start hunting/gathering/gardening for our food. Hunter-gatherers didn’t just kill things and eat them without any foresight the way modern “sport” hunters do. They had complex systems of land management that built soil and created mosaics of habitat, maximizing biodiversity for small areas. This is why I say over and over again that you can’t just throw on some buckskin clothes, grab a bow and arrow and think you’re a hunter-gatherer. The tools are meaningless without the system that created them. Civilized people wore buckskin and hunted with bows and arrows for thousands of years. The management system of hunting and gathering is the real technology. Not the hand-made artifacts they leave behind, but the ecological artifacts like salmon runs so thick you couldn’t walk through the river.

Civilized people do not understand that hunting and gathering means giving back more than you take. If everyone were to start giving back more than they take, we’d actually begin to build biodiversity and wild food sources back up. Sure, the dams have killed the salmon, and if all of us became hunter-gatherers that means we would become stewards of the salmon which means we would dismantle the dams and build spawning habitats along the river banks.

– Scout

If you have a burning question for Urban Scout, send him an e-mail at urbanscout [at] gmail [dot] com with the subject, “ask urban scout.”

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17 Comments on “Ask Urban Scout #10”

  1. Ah… the inevitable death of civilization? What will it be like? Will the humans make it through? Will the Earth still be able to sustain life?

    Truthfully, none of us know; it hasn’t happened yet, so how could we?

    On the one hand, the e-mailer has a point: if humans were to transition from civilized agrarians to hunting, gathering foragers overnight, they’d would totally ruin the world. But I’m obviously coming from a different place. I’m not a doubter.

    This also came up on a forum I post on recently. My take on it is that, yes, if we were to “convert” quickly we’d exhaust the planet of life and humans, along with all the other species they’ve wiped out, would be in big trouble.

    The biggest trick of agrarians, as I see it, is that they’ve kind of “padded” the food supply. Population has always been basically determined by food supply. (I won’t say the same is true of carrying capacity, because survival depends on more than simply having food to eat.) Since 10,000 years ago people decided totalitarian agriculture was a good idea, the food supply increased terrifically. And then again with the industrial revolution, and yet again with the green revolution. For the last fifty years, globally, the amount of land dedicated to agriculture has barely changed, but the yields have increased noticeably. With all this extra food come all these extra people. Since agriculture has artificially expanded “carrying capacity” (quoted since, as noted before, carrying capacity is more than just food supply) it has created a dilemma in which the number of people on the planet cannot be supported by the planets natural systems.

    I think you and I, Scout, and most of your readers would agree with out a doubt that this kind of agriculture is unsustainable. And, at least from my estimation, the number of people on the planet cannot be supported by natural systems. Together this points to one thing: reduce the food supply to reduce the population. We can do this willfully or we can wait for agricultural society to crash; that crash will either be quick or sudden or long and drawn out—again, none of us know yet.

    If we do it willfully I think that gives humanity (and indeed, the life of non-human populations as well) a greater chance at survival. People will start to go to permi- and horticulture to get things they aren’t getting at the stores. And then when the indstri-agricultural machine’s cogs start breaking and it grinds to a halt, we’ll be able to support ourselves sustainably again. And, by then, we’d have a population small enough to be supported by the fish and the deer and the dandelions… all of it.

    One of my more recent stock-responses to people who are believers in Science and Technologyâ„¢ is simply this: Wait until the food shortages start. Or, more accurately: Wait until the food shortages creep north, threw Mexico and into the United States. Then, maybe, you’ll finally see that something is Wrongâ„¢.

  2. Follow-up Question:
    While I don’t know for certain, I find it difficult to believe that 6 billion people could subsist on giving more back to the environment than it could take. Basically, I don’t think hunting and gathering will currently provide 6 billion people with food. How do we solve this problem? Do you believe in some sort of “die-back”? Would you advocate it? How do you conceive a transition of this nature occurring?

    Long-time reader,

  3. As Nimh and the original questioner both asked… wouldn’t 6+ billion hunter/gatherers quickly deplete the natural resources? I ask the same thing, and believe that the natural world could not possibly sustain all of us. There would be a massive “die off” of the human herds from famine, disease and turf wars. According to the laws of nature this would be restoring the natural balance of nature, thinning the herds to a level that the natural world can sustain. The ever increasing over population of the planet from non-stop human breeding is what is unsustainable.

    Hunter Gatherers like the native Americans were required to be nomadic to survive… following the natural crops with the seasons. This nomadic rotatation allowed the land and food supply around each camp to renew itself by the time the tribe returned a year later. An acre of natural perma-culture will only sustain a small fraction of the number of humans that an irrigated agricultural acre can sustain. If all of the billions of people that are now crowded into cities, were scattered in smaller “clans” all across the unpopulated areas, especially in the over-populated, crowded countries of “the old world”, Eurpoe, Asia, Africa, there would be nowhere for a hunter-gatherer clan to migrate too, where a fresh, renewed bountiful food supply was available, and famine would ensue and the landscape would be trampled, pillaged and devestated by the starving herds of humans desperately struggling to survive.

  4. I’ve kinda thought it would require a celestial body slamming into the earth to get the desired effect. Not that I am saying humanity should wait for it(the asteroid) Although that would fuck everything up. For the most part.

  5. Good job generalizing about the indigenous people of two entire continents, Gypsy Boy.

    In fact, plenty of Native American groups were traditionally not-nomadic. And of course, plenty of them were and are nomadic. It all depends entirely upon the particular habitat the group is in.

    The main problem initially with the world’s population becoming hunter-gatherers immediately would be that the world is damaged, and therefore not teeming with as much life as it could. It isn’t that the natural world can’t support us, but it will be tough until we have more widespread reforesting and permaculture.

  6. I just wanted to comment that your post was a little contradictory; I understand why it was, but you said “yes, I think that all 6 billion of us should immediately stop farming and start hunting/gathering/gardening for our food.” But then a bit later in the post, you said “you can’t just throw on some buckskin clothes, grab a bow and arrow and think you’re a hunter-gatherer.” So which is it, Scout? Should we be totally unprepared and dash headlong into the gathering/hunting/gardening lifestyle, or should we take time, plan well, learn the necessary skills and then dump civ like a bad date?

    Not mocking you, I seriously believe the same things myself, just curious…


  7. I just think that the rewilders who preach returning to the wild as hunter/gatherers (for everyone else), while they continue to suck on civilizations big warm titty, dreaming how wonderful their life will be when civiization collapses into chaos, barabarism, war, famine, plagues, massive die-off, survival of the ruthless… they are living in Merry Faerie, La.. La.. Land.

  8. Without the idea of Utopia, there can be no Utopia. Dreams, goals, plans, ideals… they’re all cut from the same cloth. The end does not necessarily have to be identical to the means. So sucking off of that dirty industrial/agrarian tit is what you do until you and your peers can push the world back into the forest. They won’t go there until it can support them. They won’t go there if they believe it’s more difficult or less comfortable than their own lot. When the ideal path and the path of least resistance are the same, the world will mend. Any suggestion that it can or must happen overnight are preposterous.

  9. I think the main hurdle is that we’re all inherently afraid of the fact that civilization is collapsing. It is a fact that billions of people will have to die until a sustainable/fair form of living is possible for all those living. It sounds very grim, and can be unsettling to imagine that yourself, your loved ones, and your friends could be the ones who die. But when we think of an animal other than ourselves, which we have imposed extinction or retraction upon, they do not call themselves the victims of their situation. They simply die and make due in smaller numbers or die off all together and that’s that.

    It seems trivial to argue whether or not becoming a hunter-gatherer/gardener is a good idea or not. It is clearly a good idea…

  10. Great post, Scout. I hear this come up a lot as well. And like you said, Tony, we don’t know how it’s going to go down. My idealogical thinking (which I think we have an over abundance of in these type of forums) tells me that sooner the collapse happens the better. There is so much terrible and long lasting things we are doing to the planet, let’s just stop now. Right?

    But my engaged, day to day self of course wants a nice slow transition. I see no way that this slow transition can happen without technology. So our economic and technological structures need to switch rapidly into something that is transitional, not the ever expanding manifest destiny nonsense. For instance, what is to be done with nuclear waste? What about all the arsenic, lead in the soil and water? Where are the minerals going to come from that are gone from so many of our soils? I think we need to think about these problems on global technological civilization level, as these problems can be managed with these modern tools. We need to do these things while we still have them available. Hunter gather, stone age technologies, which most of us in this world see as either inevitable and/or desirable aren’t going to be able to repair the damage in any kind of timeline that works for me (if at all). I think instead of arguing over what our prediction/ideology of the future might be, we need to be actually preparing in a real way. Websites like this one are a big help, for sure, but we need so much more. Communities must come together to figure these things out, and that involves things like governments, businesses, and factories that people like us are mostly opposed to on some level. How can we live in the meantime while we rebuild the abundance of the earth? Like, can we have local permaculture/horticulture everywhere to provide certain parts of our diet, but oil based agriculture provides the rest. What kind, and for how long? We aren’t running out of oil, it’s production is peaking. How can we use this oil to transition out of this overpopulation nightmare?

    Of course I say this as someone who has already internalized the paradigm shift that is necessary for any of this to work at all. (Like Daniel Quinn style). I see for people that don’t have this understanding, that hunting/gathering/primitive skills are very very dangerous in the face of a collapse, even if a temporary one — for all the reasons that were discussed above. Unfortunately, it is a big stretch for most people to even consider that a hunting/gathering future is a positive thing, much less that hunting and gathering means creating ecological abundance. I guess I’m fairly hopeless that enough people are capable of seeing hunting gathering as anything but just taking what is around.

    I’ll stop now, thanks for providing a forum.

  11. Scout is in good company. Best known for her polemics on gender and society, Germaine Greer is becoming an articulate advocate for wild nature in her older age. Greer argues in her book – White Fella Jump Up (1) – that contemporary Australia should reconsider the European approach to land use and natural resources that was imported with colonists (as should America) and replace it with the wisdom, knowledge and practice of it’s native people, the oppressed and marginalised aboriginal culture. Greer is uncompromising about where she thinks things went wrong. Her’s is a vision of a new nationhood of hunger-gatherers as Australia becomes an Aboriginal country once more. She sees then that this hunter gatherer nation could make common cause with other hunter gatherer people, “all of whom are taking a terrible hammering”.

    Greer would probably agree with this (2): “The greatest impediment to rewilding is an unwillingness to imagine it”

    The elephant in the room is always over-population.

    (1) White Fella Jump Up – The Shortest Way to Nationhood, Germaine Greer (2004) Profile Books ISBN 1-86197-739-5
    (2) Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation, MMichael Soulé & Reed Noss, Wild Earth Fall 1998

  12. There is more than enough food in the world now to feed us all, but people starve because of others’ greed. Quinn fans call it locking up the food. I somehow doubt that the collapse will make the number of people starving rise, and in all likelihood will make that number decline, once we stop leveling forests.

  13. I recently read John Michael Greer’s book, The Long Descent… I think that his analysis of our situation is probably the most accurate, and his prediction as to how everything will “unfold” seems very realistic. I recommend his writings to anyone sincerely concerned about the future.

    Surely a sudden collapse *could* happen — but the likelihood of that being allowed is quite low. I think over the next few years (or even 6 months) more and more people will wake up to the fact that the civilized world doesn’t work out so well.

  14. Some key words here are “immediately” and “gardening”.Gardening would definitely be key to an immediate transition but is that hunter/gathering?Modern society has seriously degraded most good land beyond the potential for large initial yields.Protected wilderness areas are almost further from being productive.The Natives managed,for sure,but creating these highly productive models takes some serious investments in time(esp. now).Investing in long term management goals comes at the expense of short term needs which will likely be great shortly after collapse.A transitional period would allow quick return models to subsidise efforts to implement long term models.Reality is what you can get away with.Esp. AFTER!

  15. i think a huge die off would occur to regain homeostasis,those who couldnt make it wouldnt,and that may be the majority.toss in failure of antibiotics,spread of disease,the weather and you got an epidemic,maybe a much needed one .in terms of gardens i think it would be peril to stay in one spot,and the necessity would be to encourage growth of native plant(and fungus/mycohrrhizal) feedback relationships throughout a given biome while maintaining no permenant camp.paul stamets has some great info in the book mycelium running where successful experimentation was done using mycelium and mushrooms to “mycoremediate” old logging roads back into forest by making the soil alive with its natural bacteria etc and allowing and encouraging other mushroom and plant species to flourish in doing so.soil contaminated with oil,pcbs,dioxins,heavy metals,radio active elements,munitions and more can be and have been remediated using the same concept..and some mushrooms actually thrive in the harsh chemical environments,reaching maximum size.fruiting bodies of mushrooms actually extract the chemicals,concentrating them to very dangerous levels in the mushrooms while removing them from the soil.physical hunter/gatherer skills are not the only thing needed to be able to live and thrive in an environment,understanding the caretaker mindset and working with the forest system to heal it while healing and nourishing a human body or group thereof is important. remaining close to the big warm titty of civilization is key to those with the understandings of things that could possibly help, because, like mycelium spreading remediation,or bacteria sharing the information of immunity to a given antibiotic with every bacteria in direct contact with it(and creating immunity to anticipated antibiotics that dont yet exist),the more surface area we can have to permeate outward from, the better chance i believe we have to help the earth “balance out “.the transitional period might just have a little bit(or more) of human on human consumption and alot of “if your not with us your against us” mentality. the only thing that would actually make the number of starving people decline after transition would be that most people would die,making less people available to starve in general,since most would die of starvation it would most likely increase with a trailing decrease.the scary thing to me is not collapse of this counter productive system of destruction but the way it is looking like it is going if it remains technology is good in certain respects,like communicating with you all now,but it creates ability of mass production/population and also the ability to sustain a system of media produced fear and an ever increasing all encompassing monitor,be it GPS encoded photographs from your cellphone,the 5 cameras and the voice recorder on each city bus,legal microphones in cellphones that can be automated while cellphones are off,the ever beloved rfid chip and my personal favorite ..H.A.A.R.P ,for our safety!primitive living skills are technology that we would not be here with out,mechanized techno is a distraction that can and should be used to destroy itself, in the mean time ,brush your teeth daily,mastication is important

    mt goat,you wouldnt happen to be the mountain goat the i met at the little music festival in mosier oregon about 3 years ago would it?the one alex grey was supposed to be at but wasnt?